Thursday 10 December 2020

Bible Book:
2 Thessalonians

These will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, separated from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might. (v. 9)

2 Thessalonians 1: 1-12 Thursday 10 December 2020

Psalm 37:12-29


In his second letter to the Thessalonian church Paul is talking about the return of Christ, and he encourages the community to keep going as their suffering increases.

For 2000 years, following Jesus has often involved persecution, alienation, oppression and living at odds with society. In Paul’s view, Christ is the rightful ruler of the world, enthroned in heaven, but on earth the old powers still have a firm grip. Paul imagines a cosmic battle, with human beings often on the wrong side because of the idols they choose to worship (money, pleasure, fame, ego, control, lust…) which means they ignore the call of the Creator.

In the midst of persecution, some Thessalonians might have wondered why they should continue to follow Jesus if God allowed their tormentors to prevail. Many who are abused today will have similar questions. A God of love and grace must surely also be a God of justice, so where is the justice? And where is the evidence that we are on the right path if we follow Jesus?

First, Paul is not measuring success by worldly prosperity. Instead he is impressed with the growth in the Thessalonians’ faith in the midst of suffering and the increase in their practical love of one another. Paul and his colleagues are not embarrassed by what this small church is producing, rather they boast about it, just as they boast in their crucified Lord. What Jesus produces is never the world’s view of success.

And the justice? As sure as morning follows night, the justice of God will come when Christ returns. Then, Paul says, there will be rest for the afflicted, and consequences for those who have sold their souls to the powers of evil. This doesn’t mean everyone who has ever sinned will be punished forever – the grace of God enables us to be forgiven. But that forgiveness does require repentance, and acknowledgement of sin. The everlasting presence of the Holy God, a place of eternal peace, justice and love, must be a place where violence, abuse and unfaithfulness are banished forever.

Maybe the words of Paul in verse 9 shock us, because we are not used to thinking about ‘eternal destruction’. But if you welcome everyone freely, regardless of their crimes or unrepentance, then perhaps you have never been persecuted or abused. If justice is not found on earth, it must come about in the eternal realm.

And will entire human souls be destroyed, or just those parts that are rotten? Will it be like a painful infection of sin cured with the antibiotic of divine love? Or like the impurities in iron-ore removed in the fire? We cannot tell. One thing is certain though: when the Kingdom of God comes, other powers and idols will be removed for all eternity.

To Ponder:

  • Paul prayed that the Thessalonians might be worthy of God’s call, and that God would fulfill every work of faith they attempted to bring glory to God (verses 11-12). Do we pray this for our churches? Or do we have other ideas of ‘success’?
  • Paul’s measure of ‘church growth’ was perhaps different to ours (see verse 3). How can we look for other evidence of God at work rather than simply numbers of people attending church?
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